Available translations: English العربيّة

Reference on human rights and corporate accountability

Graphic: Workers in a garment factory in India

A reference on Human Rights, Corporate Accountability and Government Responsibility was considered by the ACJ at the APF's 13th Annual Meeting, held in Malaysia in July 2008.

The Forum Council asked the ACJ to consider the following key questions:

  • What is the basis for attributing human rights responsibilities to transnational corporations under international human rights law?
  • What are the obligations of a State to regulate transnational corporations with regard to human rights violations within its territorial jurisdiction?
  • What are the obligations of a State to regulate transnational corporations with regard to human rights violations occurring outside its territorial jurisdiction?
  • How useful is the concept of corporate complicity in international crimes to protect human rights?
  • What jurisdictional barriers exist in enforcing human rights obligations against corporations?

In its Final Report, the ACJ noted that while the international community has had limited success in establishing binding international rules, much has been achieved through 'soft law' initiatives, such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and the ILO Declaration of Principles for Multinational Enterprises.

In addition, voluntary initiatives developed by international organisations and business, such as the UN Global Compact, and sector or issue specific 'principles', provide further guidance on the obligations of business with respect to human rights.

In line with these developments, the ACJ recommended that NHRIs should use their core functions of monitoring, education, advocacy and complaint handling to promote corporate respect for human rights.

It proposed a number of practical measures for NHRIs to consider, including:

  • Reviewing domestic legislation regarding the establishment and conduct of corporations, as well as reviewing existing grievance mechanisms to assess their effectiveness and accessibility
  • Monitoring and documenting violations of human rights by corporations, and supporting civil society in this work
  • Advocating to government to develop laws and regulations that meet international best practice in the prevention of human rights violations by corporations, including labour rights
  • Developing education programs to assist corporations and the wider business community understand their human rights obligations
  • Educating groups likely to be vulnerable to human rights violations by corporations on their rights and the available remedies, and
  • Using their complaints mechanisms, and the outcomes of complaints and inquiries, to monitor the conduct of corporations.

The ACJ also recommended that NHRIs promote these issues at the international level, as well as developing cooperative arrangements with other NHRIs in the region on issues of shared concern, such as the rights of migrant or undocumented workers.


Graphic: APF logo

ACJ Report on Human Rights, Corporate Accountability and Government Responsibility

The report recommends that NHRIs should use their core functions to promote corporate respect for human rights principles and standards.


Image credits

  1. Workers in a garment factory in India - BBC World Service, Flickr; http://bit.ly/1EiLeWX